29 May 2017 – The problem with the status of Jammu and Kashmir and the feelings of its people towards India is an old one although the situation has become worse in recent times.
It started in 1948 after India was divided into two independent states of India and Pakistan and after the more than 530 states were asked to go to either the new nation of Pakistan or to join India.
The maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir (J K) was a Hindu but the majority population of the state was Muslim. He however decided to accede to India. The Muslim people of JK did not like this decision and with the help of some military forces in Pakistan tried to have this decision reversed. These forces were able to capture a part of the state of JK and add it to the territory of Pakistan. This part is called Azad (free) Kashmir by Pakistan and POK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) by the Indian government.
The conflict and violence in the state started from this point. It may be mentioned that JK consists of three geographic and cultural parts — Kashmir (or the Valley) which is largely Muslim, Jammu which is largely Hindu and the small region of Ladakh with its small population that is overwhelmingly Buddhist.
Till about two decades back, the culture and ways of life in JK were largely cosmopolitan and peaceful but then the Hindu Pandits who had been living in Kashmir for centuries were forced out of the Kashmir valley by Muslim radical elements . With their forced departure the culture and ethos of the valley began to change — it became more Islamised and radicalised. Some Muslim politicians finding a suitable opportunity began to talk of ‘Azaadi ‘ or freedom. These few persons who get all the benefits personally are now called ‘Separatists’. What this concept of Azaadi actually meant was never made clear.
This situation has been exploited by elements in the neighbouring Pakistan especially in POK to fish in troubled waters and to help the demand of Azaadi made by some radicalised politicians. They have been sending money and military help so that this part may secede from India and become a part of POK and Pakistan.
With the rise of ISIS that is spreading its wings all over the world especially in Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan etc, the situation in JK has become very tense and violent. Many youngsters have become radicalised and openly display flags of not only Pakistan but also of ISIS in Kashmir and fight pitched battles with Indian security forces and throw stones. Large number of civilians and army men are being killed and there is an acute feeling of suspicion and tragedy.
There is also another side of the situation. Elections to the state are being regularly held that are largely peaceful and JK is now governed by a combination of two distinct political parties.
Whenever there is recruitment for police or any government jobs, hundreds of young men and some women apply for different positions showing that most people want peace and stability in their lives.
However some disgruntled elements do not want to have peaceful conditions in Kashmir ; if that happened their raison d’être would end. So these elements aided by separatists from across the international border and the newly formed ISIS sleeper cells continue to sow the seeds of Azaadi and a Muslim caliphate.
The situation is bad but not impossible for peace and tranquility to prevail. The meaning of Azaadi is vague and unrealistic for geographic and economic reasons. Sandwiched as the Valley is between two hostile neighbours, it cannot survive on its own. It has almost no industry and limited agriculture and its source of income is mainly tourism and horticulture. There are large number of apple and other fruit farms. From the tourist point of view, Kashmir and Ladakh have some incredibly beautiful sites. No wonder Kashmir is called a paradise on Earth.
We all hope that the radicalised elements are isolated and this tourist paradise becomes a stable and peaceful region for all people — Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist and peace and goodwill may prevail between India and Pakistan.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 May 2017.
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